The biggest positional battle on the Los Angeles Lakers right now is for the starting power forward spot.
Head coach Luke Walton has said that the team will make the decision on whether Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma or Larry Nance, Jr. will start on opening night more based on which player most fits in the lineup rather than who is playing the best basketball, and that Nance will start the team’s final preseason game.
Kuzma has probably played the best individually of not just any power forward, but any Lakers player as he averages a team-high 19.2 points per game on 56.3 percent shooting.
But after the Lakers’ Friday practice Walton made it sound unlikely that his play will result in the starting nod on opening night, giving him a 10 percent chance, via Bill Oram of the O.C. Register:
Walton said there is a 10 percent chance Kyle Kuzma starts at power forward on opening night. Very much a Nance/Randle battle.
— Bill Oram (@billoram) October 13, 2017
Randle or Nance starting over Kuzma might have to do with how Brook Lopez maximizes their strengths and mitigates their weaknesses better than any of the Lakers other centers, but it also might have to do with the team’s practice habits as much as anything (via Shahan Ahmed of NBC LA):
Luke Walton said practice board makes more of an impact than preseason games…Nance starting tonight, been top of leaderboard most of camp pic.twitter.com/Y0FH2lql7A
— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) October 13, 2017
Nance’s hard work may earn him a starting nod, but the game is not determined by just the starters, and sometimes they aren’t even a team’s best lineup.
And whoever ultimately starts for the Lakers, Walton has made it clear that Kuzma deserves and will get minutes at both forward spots throughout the season.
That’s a bigger role than appeared to be possible heading into training camp, and it’s a testament to Kuzma’s play that he even has any chance to start, much less a 10 percent one.
No matter whether or not he does so soon or even this season, Kuzma’s play has made it a near certainty that he’ll start for the Lakers at some point, and that’s another win for a Lakers scouting department that continues to find players who outperform their draft status.